BANGALORE: Power can be mellow, vulnerable, beautiful. And yet ripple with invincibility in the face of whatever life can throw at you. That is what actor, writer, director of Ay Ombe theatre and educator Josefina Baez embodies. The capacity to always be open to bliss and pain, learning and teaching, silence and celebration, spirituality and psychology, the idea of ethnicity and global oneness, music and meditation, past, present and future.
Author of two performance texts Dominicanish (translated into Bengali by Shukti Roy and Dibyajyoti Mukhpadhyay) and Comrade, Bliss Ain’t Playing (original text in English; translated into French by Sophie Mariñez), Josefina has travelled the world as a performer at theatre festivals and a teacher, conducting theatre retreats and workshops designed around her own performance autology.
Born in La Romana, Dominican Republic and a global citizen at heart, she laughs at the boxes of race, nationality, colour and more that the world wants to trap people in. She lives in New York, has an Indian spiritual Guru and “has Spanish first and last names and that makes her (in other people’s words) less black, and for some others, too black to be Latin!”
But this is what she says about her identity, “To make sense of the world, I do not adhere my meaning merely to my skin color, sex, creed or nationality but to what I consciously do or don’t from/with/to/for them. No flags. No need to title myself after my obvious attributes from birth. Needless to say that the other’s definition of my blackness, Dominicanness, spirituality or womanhood is their angle.”
Theirs. Not hers. For anyone who wants to learn who she is, she has a simple answer, “Ask me.” Because “dialogue would be preferred” to a hurried disregard of the fact that human identity is inclusive, not exclusive. No one knows or can know what it is like to be Josefina Baez because, “After all, I am the one living me.”
Josefina has absolute, unquestioning positivity that does not come from naivety but intense learning of humanity, of spiritual literature from all religions and love for a limitless life. She teaches that spirituality is not an esoteric but a practical discipline. It is not what you believe in but what you do to make yourself and the world, a more harmonious place. Just like religion, art/theatre/writing to her is also about the “sacred, sovereign individual in the context of the collective.”
The quest is to not be wasteful, be it life or art and to find balance and capture the essence of a moment by staying in it, to learn that everything is connected. And that those of us who make sweeping judgements about global terrorism should introspect and see if in our own lives, we try to “control or intimidate the other and have our way.”
“We want to change the world? Let us first just change ourselves,” she says. In her life and work, Josefina shares everything, the spoken and the unspoken, her own struggles, her mortality, her imperfections.
In the words of the 2008 Pulitzer Prize winner Junot Díaz, “Josefina Báez has been breaking open hearts and re-ordering minds for more years than I care to count. She is one of North America’s finest artists and she is, without question, one of my favorite writers. She is a sword bathed in flame, she’s a marvel.”
Finding her calling
She says,” I do not recall a conscious choice to walk the creative path. I remember myself on it at all times. Given my working class strata, I could not have made a conscious choice to be an artist, since it is really a profession fed by actions and passions that cost money. Lots of money (classes, books, the time to research, to write, to try and try again and again, the travelling). Since April 1986, I have been devoted to crafting my creative voice. Before that I worked for others, followed others. Since 1986 I have been working with others.”
She smiles, “No eureka moment…I recognise the blessing tattooed in each day. Every day presents its menu; I make a choice. And get my consequences. Adjusting (to life) is required again and again. This trial and error is unending (in creativity and in life).”
She answers, “I met a living philosopher in New York, a spiritual teacher, a Guru. He is perfect for me. Since his guidance has been at all times based on a practical spirituality with the most amazing results, I was initiated in Mantra Yoga meditation. His love and respect for India was intrinsic in his teaching. Thus the natural thing was to go to India. Since mid-80s, I have been visiting India. I do not feel like a foreigner in its flow.”
What life is all about
She mulls, “When no theory can grasp life’s dance, then I just dance it. Including its walks, its pauses, as part of the overall choreography. When I need to cry, I do. And when I laugh, oh my, I do! I understand that all is part of it. And that everything is everywhere; that every time includes all times. Pain exists at the same time with no pain; as silence lives with sounds and darkness with light. I count on my contradictions. And keep it simple. Purpose is what you make of it. It is impossible to transform my surroundings so I work on myself. This is my most political act. This is my revolution. Evolution. Solution. And there are so many people on this boat; so many that we have a global community. A humane globalisation.”
For the ambitious
Suggests Josefina, “Ask yourself what do you really want? Redefine success. Redefine your path. If defeated, let’s ask ourselves what we really want? Do we want what comes from or depends on others? If we do, then we do have a big problem since others may have a different plan. Depressed? Look for help. Look for natural ways of tackling this malady too. The world over has its level of depression. In that, believe me, you are never alone. Instead of looking at what is missing, check out what you have in the positive side. All of us do have plenty to be grateful for (our senses, to start with!).”
On urban loneliness She says, “Alone? Enjoy the aloneness. That will pass too. In fact, we have all been in company when we felt as if we were alone. So all is relative. And everything is changing at all times. So are our emotions. This life just is. And its ability to change is the core essence of existence.”